Obama Urged to Show Restraint on Ukraine

Across Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. media, there is a rush to restart the Cold War with all its black-and-white propaganda, ignoring Russia’s understandable concerns and portraying the “U.S. side” as always right. But some U.S. intelligence veterans urge a more adult response.

MEMORANDUM TO: The President
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: Russia, Ukraine, and the U.S. National Interest

Dear Mr. President:

We the undersigned are veteran intelligence, military, and law enforcement officers. Taken together, our years of service to our country total nearly 200 years. Unlike many experts and advisers who base their arguments on abstract notions about the international scene, our insights are drawn from a depth of hands-on experience inside the U.S .government — here and abroad.

Given this background, we share a profound understanding of the great responsibility that accompanies great power. We feel an obligation to lay our views on Ukraine before you — the more so, inasmuch as the airwaves, TV, and newspapers are giving a great deal of space to the same pundits and academics who got Iraq so wrong just over a decade ago.

A number of us, in our government roles, were involved with policy relating to the then-Soviet Union and also with its successor state, the Russian Federation. We have observed the recent slide of Moscow toward a more authoritarian form of government and have also been concerned over the playing-out of great power rivalry over Ukraine.

President Barack Obama discusses Ukraine during a meeting with members of his National Security Staff in the Oval Office, Feb. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama discusses Ukraine during a meeting with members of his National Security Staff in the Oval Office, Feb. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Our still-vivid memories of the Cold War and the harm it inflicted on the world’s security prompts us to argue that the troubles in Ukraine should not be permitted to usher in a return to a bipolar world in which two heavily armed superpowers confront each other at every level, including on a global scale.

We are particularly concerned over what appears to be a largely unfocused yet virulent mood among members of Congress and the mainstream media to “do something” about Russia — a sentiment that is both ill-advised and quite the reverse of what this nation should be doing to nurture a constructive and ultimately beneficial relationship with Moscow and the rest of Europe.

While we support U.S. efforts to aid the development of a pluralistic democracy in Ukraine, including assistance in conducting free and fair elections, we believe that military support and direct involvement by U.S. troops is a step that will virtually guarantee escalation of the conflict, possibly leading to direct confrontation between two nuclear-armed great powers — a situation that should, and can, be easily avoided if the interests of all countries, including Russia, are taken into account.

To put it in stark terms, Russian engagement with Ukraine — a country that is on Moscow’s doorstep and which is, in part, ethnically Russian — does not threaten vital U.S. interests; nor does it threaten any U.S. allies. Washington’s response should be a measured one, based on the actual risks versus possible gains. Sanctions should be employed with considerable restraint, as their effectiveness is questionable and they frequently serve only to harden adversarial positions. Significant military moves, whether unilateral or in conjunction with NATO, should be avoided as they can be seen as provocative while providing no solution to existing disagreements.

We argue for more, not less, diplomatic engagement, based on our own experience as witnesses to many missed opportunities over the past 50-plus years, in which the United States — to our regret — has found itself all too often on the wrong side of history. The Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 entrenched communism in Cuba; indiscriminate U.S. support of anti-communist groups and political parties in Europe both weakened fledgling democracies and strengthened corruption; overtures by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev for complete nuclear disarmament were dismissed, encouraging nuclear proliferation among other states.

When the Soviet Union finally fell, specific agreements not to expand into the former Warsaw Pact states were promptly ignored, with both NATO and the European Union quickly moving eastward. The rape of the Russian economy in the 1990s, engineered by Western “entrepreneurs” working with local oligarchs followed. It was described as “shock therapy” at the time, but most Russians more accurately view the events as wholesale pillage, fueling much of the current mistrust of the West.

Russia could hardly have been expected to ignore Washington’s de facto encouragement and achievement of “regime change” in Ukraine — resulting in the unseating of the duly elected (though thoroughly corrupt) government in Kiev. Moreover, continued efforts by the West to draw Ukraine into NATO would guarantee Russian hostility for many years to come. Both of these are existential issues for Moscow; may we remind you of the U.S. parallel in the enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine in our own “backyard.”

In our view, the situation need not spin out of control. The door is still open to enforcing the measures agreed upon on April 17 in Geneva. Russia’s willingness to continue to work with us on destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and on the Iranian nuclear issue remains encouraging and could foster cooperation on other mutual interests.


As for Crimea, with all the misleading rhetoric filling the air waves, we want to remind you that Crimea became part of Russia in the late 18th Century. Sixty years ago, Ukrainian Nikita Khrushchev, who was then head of the Soviet Communist Party, simply gave Crimea to the Ukraine — one of the 15 “republics” comprising the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). There was no referendum at the time; it appeared not much more than a formality since all areas of the USSR danced to Moscow’s tune.

The transfer of Crimea to Ukraine began to matter significantly in 1991, when the Soviet Union imploded and Crimeans found themselves no longer citizens of Russia. President Vladimir Putin addressed this directly in his major speech of March 18 when he recalled that Russia had “humbly accepted” the situation in 1991. He explained that Russia “was going through such hard times then that realistically it was incapable of protecting its interests.”

Today, Russia is capable of protecting its interests in the areas it calls its “near frontier.” It will not accept the incorporation of Ukraine into NATO. Attempts to force that issue will not make Europe more secure; rather, it will increase the danger of war.

There is an important step you can take, Mr. President. We recommend that you ask NATO to formally rescind the following part of the declaration agreed to by the NATO heads of state in Bucharest on April 3, 2008: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.”

Meanwhile, let cooler heads prevail. Sending significant numbers of military forces into countries bordering Ukraine amounts to pouring gasoline on what are now relatively isolated and limited outbreaks of fire, mostly in eastern Ukraine. The fragile accord reached in Geneva on April 17 can still provide the basis for discussion among mature leaders and prevent the kind of provocation, machismo, and escalation that 100 years ago launched the war that was supposed to end all wars. Two short decades later came the Second World War.

In the wake of that carnage, Winston Churchill made an observation that is equally applicable to our 21st Century: “To jaw, jaw, jaw, is better than to war, war, war.”

Respectfully submitted for the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity:

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Thomas Drake, former Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service, NSA

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

David MacMichael, former Senior Estimates Officer, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former chief of CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch & presidential briefer (ret.)

Tom Maertens, former Foreign Service Officer and National Security Council Director for Non-Proliferation

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Todd E. Pierce, US Army Judge Advocate General Corps (ret.)

Coleen Rowley, former Chief Division Counsel & FBI Special Agent (ret.)

8 comments for “Obama Urged to Show Restraint on Ukraine

  1. May 5, 2014 at 17:05

    What a relief to have found so many worthy like-minded people in an unexpected place like this web page! Couldn’t thank you enough for raising your voices in favour of what indeed seems to be our mutual cause!
    Since the issue of Ukrainian and Russian discord, so to say, has been raised here, I would like to post FYI (am not too sure if this agrees with the organisation policies) a link to the video, for you to judge for your own as to who came to power in the Ukraine:
    We are becoming ever smaller world, interdependent to a huge degree, so please be aware of this horrendous fact.
    Also – there’s some urgent and important info I just feel bound to share with you (hoping you would share it in your turn):
    According to the information received by 57.md editor’s office, Kyiv criminal government, led by CIA employees located in Kiev and in fact governing all actions of antinational junta, are preparing another war crime.
    Based on the analytical report of the CIA, where the US state that the so-called “counter-terrorist operation” in Donbass failed, and require that Kyiv authorities do all in their power to maintain control over Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv regions, as well as, proceeding from data held in April sociological surveys suggesting that about 70% of citizens in the Odessa region do not approve of the idea of Russian armed contingent entering the Ukraine, today a decision was made to simulate Russian forces break-through from Transnistria, using
    the forces of the Right Sector and the so-called National Guard [disguised as RF army].
    The gangs will be given an order to ensure that there’s a huge number of victims among the civilian population, in order to obscure the mass murder on May 2 and stop the wave of discontent in Odessa which threatens to sweep away the self-appointed Kyiv “power” and lead to loss of control of Odessa, Mykolayiv and Kherson regions. In addition, the junta hopes that the threat of “external aggression” will win over sympathies of part of the residents of Odessa region and thereby promote joining the National Guard extremely short of manpower by residents of the South of Ukraine who until now refuse to do so.”
    Thank you, it makes me feel far more optimistic knowing there are people like you, it really does.

  2. April 28, 2014 at 19:19

    In addition to delivering this letter directly to President Obama, it should be published in the NYT and Washington Post as a full page ad, if necessary. The American people need to know the true historical and political context of this issue from people with these kinds of credentials as they are not being informed by the mainstream media, just fed a bunch of superficial garbage and propaganda.

  3. Sean
    April 28, 2014 at 18:21

    While I appreciate the general direction this letter goes, it must be stated the people of this country deserve ‘free and fair elections’ as well.
    Fine time the US took stock of the mess our ‘democracy’ is in and stop forcibly meddling in and or overthrowing the governments of other nations.

  4. Dr. Frans B. Roos, Ph.D.
    April 28, 2014 at 12:26

    F.G. Sanford you must have had a general idea as me when reading the letter in question.

    Could not believe my eyes, which at my age at times seem to plays tricks on me, so I did read the letter two more times, each times coming to the same conclusion,

    con•clu•sion [kÉ™n klï “ï ¤’n]
    1. decision based on facts: a decision made or an opinion formed after considering the relevant facts or evidence
    Microsoft® Encarta® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

    YES, this letter format
    for•mat [fáwr màt]
    1. structure: the way in which something is presented, organized, or arranged
    Microsoft® Encarta® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

    as it now is in the Public Domain is correct, it shows the average American measure of intelligence and pride in accomplishment of settling everything through the end of a gun.
    The letter reminds one of what a third grader would produce. A third grader that is in a foreign school learning a second language, English.

    Keep up the good work Sanford. Reading your replies always makes me wonder if we spend a lot of our life in the same places.

  5. Robert Locke
    April 28, 2014 at 11:41

    This document should be cleaned up. The typos and missing words surely can be fixed on this webpage and should be. This letter can’t possibly have been sent to the President in this form, can it? If so, we could use a “sic” announcement after each one. Who is in charge of this webpage?

  6. F. G. Sanford
    April 28, 2014 at 11:10

    I’ve been waiting with bated breath to read this forthcoming letter ever since hearing Ray McGovern’s interview on the Scott Horton radio program. The time lapse between then and now, I assume, should have been sufficient to permit proofreading and correction of typographical errors. You guys can’t afford to trifle with your own credibility.

    Please, don’t get me wrong. I get it. I know what you guys are trying to say. I have read and listened with great admiration and respect to virtually every word any of you have spoken or written publicly for a couple of years now. I have long believed that the wisdom you collectively demonstrate would be, under sane and rational circumstances, perhaps the only hope America has to recover from its apparently irretrievable loss of the proverbial “moral high ground”.

    That said, let me address two additional observations.

    1. This letter is not addressed to the appropriate recipient. It should be painfully obvious to any rational observer that the current agenda is not consistent with either the will of the American people or the stated goals, values or objectives of any platform upon which they were led to believe they were voting. Policies now being pursued run counter to Constitutional constraints in flagrant violation of international treaties, international law, the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Kellog-Briand Pact and the Nuremberg Statutes. This trend began with the assassination of John F. Kennedy and has continued unabated since then.

    2. The United States of America has been subjected to ‘de facto’ regime change. As an American patriot, I find this reprehensible, but I am comforted by the fact that the ‘occultus vox’ now steering the ship of state has failed at every turn, discredited itself on the world stage, and is slowly but surely eroding its own legitimacy. Until the American public awakens to the fact that this is the case, it will continue. But Americans have not yet been sufficiently embarrassed, humiliated, dispossessed or abused. That they may awaken hinges on one hope: that left to its own devices, evil succumbs to murder by its own hand.

    Americans must begin to ask, “quisnam est in tutela?” Who is in charge? Perhaps it should be the duty of every patriotic American to fully support these policies in the hope that they will, in the throes of failure and discredit, force the ‘pretenders to the throne’ to reveal their identities, their perfidy and their treason.

  7. April 28, 2014 at 09:48

    I just discovered this site and made a contribution to the work. Great job.
    That said, you MUST do better on proofing. Many people have a zero tolerance for sloppiness. What you offer her is much too valuable to have it discarded.
    Keep up the good work.
    Tom in Denver

  8. Fouad Boussetta
    April 28, 2014 at 09:37

    Great letter, but why so many typos? Even missing words. I hope you didn’t send this like that to Barack!

Comments are closed.